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Faking My Own Death

Writing a personal monologue set ten years in the future during an Edinburgh based zombie apocalypse is not my usual kind of writing. I write about animals. Or science. I write for children. But I said yes before I’d got the brief. There’s a lesson to be learned there. Ari at Illicit Ink emailed me the story outline:

The apocalypse has come to Scotland. Nobody can quite agree on who invaded, but someone or something has. Seven Edinburgh folk give their stories about what happened, and how they are succeeding (or failing) to rebuild their worlds.

And some rules:

Your story must

a) Be in the first person – a monologue

b) Either be performed off-script or use a device (like a diary) where reading off the page is part of the performance

c) Include a section of the meta-story, as given by the producer

d) Be themed to the theme of the show

Here are some monologue devices you could use: diary, radio show, prison cell conversation, explanation over phone to spouse/children, news reading, coma conversation, someone buried under rubble conversation, report back to spaceship, letter to editor, school report, letter to loved one, letter to politician, confession to priest, chat to taxi driver, police station interview, etc.

I was one of the seven writers due to perform on stage at the Scottish Storytelling Centre earlier this month at ‘Apocalypse New’. My section brief was:

The mysterious visitors have built gardens. Edinburgh is full of waterfalls and new forests are springing up. Everyone is very happy and working together to build a compassionate and lovely world. But the strangers are eating people.

It perhaps sounds like my usual kind of writing until you get to that last line. At least I’d been given the most cheerful part, part five. I had a good few weeks to think about my section and during this time I was taken out quite literally by sciatic pain in my back and leg. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever had. I was on three types of prescription pain killers and still blacking out from pain. I could hardly walk but it gave me an opportunity to do something a little different with my writing. Here was a chance to fake my own death / disappearance / zombie abduction.

I waited until late at night when I was due a batch of pain killers. I wanted the pain to be real. I lay in bed with a phone camera and recorded three attempts at my last message to the world. Each was just over 10 minutes long and I played them back before recording the next one. I wanted the story to unravel almost seamlessly but at the same time be delivered with confusion and desperation. I wanted to question what it means to be human but add in things that show it’s me like my favourite bus (the number 10). I wanted to keep a few big reveals until the end. By the time I got to the third recording the pain and desperation were definitely real.

I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t going to be performing in person. When it got to my section the lights went out and a ghostly face appeared on the screen. My face. In the story I’m a doctor, here is my story:

Watch on Youtube here

It went down well. I only wish I could have been there to see all the other performances – radio presented compering, an interview, a play with music and spoken word:

Illicit Ink Skyground: Apocalypse New

When I told people how I’d made the video they said I was suffering for my art. I hadn’t thought of it like that. I saw it as making the most out of the pain. It was described as heightened realism and good acting. If you’re pretending to be drugged and in pain it’s a lot easier if you are actually drugged and in pain so I’m not sure I deserve the credit. I got the idea a few month before from a friend who’s a real doctor. The servers went down in Glasgow and the NHS had no access to anyones medical records for two days. That’s what got me thinking – what if everyone’s medical records really were hacked…

On the day of the performance I got very scared that it was a ridiculous idea and I sent an email to Ari saying I was scared it was rubbish. She assured me it wasn’t and said it was just the sort of experimental thing she was looking for. If you like experiments Illicit Ink: Skyground is back again in February. J.A. Sutherland was very complimentary about the event, read the review here.

Image Credit: Chris Scott

 
6 Comments

Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Events, Film, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Filmpoem Children’s Workshop

Hazel

This weekend I’m running a three-hour Filmpoem workshop with six children aged between 6 and 10. The workshop is part of the first Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar and I’m excited to be facilitating the workshop with artist and Filmpoem project founder Alastair Cook.

What is a Filmpoem? 

The programme puts it like this:

A filmpoem is a single entwined entity, a melting, a cleaving together of words, sound and vision. Poetry often tries to deal with the abstract world of thought and feeling, rather than the literal world of things. The filmpoem is the perfect marriage of the two.

Find out more and see examples the Filmpoem website.

How do you make a Filmpoem with children?

I’ve been planning lots of short interactive activities to get our workshop participants thinking like poets.

  • We’ll explore how we interpret our world through memories, imagination and observation
  • We’ll investigate rhyme, rhythm, meaning and anthropomorphism
  • We’ll take a sensory walk to collect new memories, objects and words

Every time I introduce a new concept we will do an activity or game to make it fun and relevant. So we’ll meet the camera as an example of anthropomorphism (he has three legs, one eye and 1 ear – he hates having his ear tickled!) and all of these activities will help us to think like poets and will work towards producing a brilliant final Filmpoem.

The workshop concept was created over tea and cake at Alastair’s many months ago. I chatted through ideas with Alastair and following that he ran a pilot with poet in residence Rita Bradd. Here’s the film they created:

Filmpoem Workshop/ All Tangled Up from North Light Arts on Vimeo.

I’m really looking forward to creating something wonderful with Alastair and the participants this Sunday. I’m also looking forward to the rest of the Filmpoem Festival!

The Filmpoem Festival is supported by Creative Scotland, East Lothian Council and North Light Arts. Find Filmpoem online or follow Filmpoem on twitter (@filmpoem). I contributed to one of Alastair Cook’s Filmpoems last year and blogged about it here.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Education, Environment, Events, Film, Media, poetry, Writing

 

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The Joys of Spontaneous Idea Surfing

When an idea pops into my head there’s an excitement that comes with it. A sort of energy that pushes the idea forward. Poets refer to a muse, composers say “the music just comes”. Whatever it is, if you go with it it’s like surfing, you’re riding a wave of idea energy and it’s brilliant.

If I leave the idea I can guarantee the next day that energy will have dissipated. A wave of energy? It’s more like a muddy puddle.

That’s why it’s so important to write an idea down when it comes, develop it when you get it, talk about it while the wave is moving.

Tell the right people. They’ll take your rough dirty diamond of an idea and help you clean, cut and polish it. The wrong people will crush your idea along with your enthusiasm.

If you’re in a workplace you might have to convince several people you’ve got a good idea before you can proceed. You may even have to convince someone it’s his or her idea. If you can proceed it’s likely there are a million and one other things you should be doing.

But I say go with it, make time and make it happen. If it really is a good idea the resources will come along the way. There’s something truly wonderful about seeing an idea become a reality.

A week ago I had the idea to take a little camera, attach it to my bike basket and cycle down and over every bump on Leith Walk.  I’d already started reporting the potholes on ‘Fix My Street’ but this new idea had energy. I wanted to do something for Greener Leith and I had an afternoon off. I told a couple of people my plan and set off.

I got to the top of Elm Row, got out my camera and felt like an idiot. What was I doing? There were people everywhere. I had a choice, I could go home or I could get over myself. I decided it really didn’t matter what people thought of me, the idea was more important. That’s when the fun began.

I recorded an intro to camera and then started to fix it to my basket. A man came over and asked what I was doing and offered some wire to help secure the camera. He’d just brought it for some stop frame animation; he was following his new idea too. And so it went on like that, the sun shone and it seemed other people were excited and interested in what I was doing when I just got on and did it.

At 11.30pm that evening I accidently started editing (I was meant to be going to bed) and I surfed the excitement of the idea wave until 3am. I wanted to raise awareness of the need to make cycling safer but knew if I made a serious film about potholes then only people interested in cycling or potholes would watch it.

Instead I made the film into an Indiana Jones style adventure movie. I tweeted the film at 3.15am and went off to bed. By lunchtime the next day I had loads of positive comments on twitter, many from non cyclist, a comments about the film’s grammar, a wine chosen in honour of the film (and a song about holes in the road) and a request from the Edinburgh Evening News to put it into the paper. I wasn’t expecting anyone to have even seen it. It just goes to show ideas have an energy of their own.

You can read the blog that goes with the film on Greener Leith here. Here’s the film:

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Environment, Film, Media

 

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Jonathan Melville: Big Person, Big Personality

I recently became a full-time freelancer. With lots to learn about my new lifestyle I’ve decided to interview the people who make freelancing work. Some hints and tips from the masters, that kind of thing. Welcome to the third in the series, meet Jonathan Melville. 

I first met Jon in March at an award ceremony. Jon interviewed me and totally put me at ease despite the camera. The subject was volunteering and I recall saying “see a need, meet a need”. Afterwards Jon asked if I’d come up with it, “No” I confessed “it’s from the Disney film Robots”. I proceeded to tell him how brilliant Robots was since he hadn’t seen in. It was only after that I discovered Jon was actually Scotland’s premiere film expert, there I’d been with a lot of enthusiasm and a less than eloquent description of a children’s film. 

Since then I’ve got to know Jon at various Edinburgh events and through social media. I’m always impressed by the number of projects Jon works on. He’s well known in Edinburgh and in social media, a big person with a big personality (and I didn’t steal that from Disney).

Although Edinburgh-based Jonathan Melville graduated from Napier University with a Publishing degree firmly rooted in the world of books and magazines, it’s online that he has made his career over the last decade.

Jon managed websites for organisations such as VisitScotland and Standard Life Bank. He then worked for an Edinburgh-based digital agency for three years before fully embracing freelance life as a digital editor and copywriter in 2011.

Now entering his fourth year as film columnist for the Edinburgh Evening News, Jonathan works with Creative Scotland on a number of film-related online projects and runs film website, www.reelscotland.com, voted 10th Best Scottish Website by The List in 2011.

How did you get started?

I started back in 2008 writing arts reviews for the Edinburgh Evening News while working full time as a website editor for various public and private sector companies. I started to get more serious about the idea of going full time freelance in 2010 after a university course I was accepted on fell through. I was finally pushed into taking the plunge in 2011 when two things happened: I was offered a substantial contract with Creative Scotland to manage a number of online projects and my full time employment ended when I was made redundant. I signed the Creative Scotland contract the day after I received my redundancy letter so thought that perhaps it was a sign that freelance life was worth committing to.

If you could go back to when you started what advice would you give yourself?

If I’d known in 2010 the way things would go I would certainly have saved more money at the start of the year, and I think that’s something that’s worth doing even if you’re aren’t planning to go freelance right now. I wasn’t expecting to made redundant and it can, as we see on the news every day, happen any time. Cheery thought.

What do you like best about being a freelancer?

It’s great to be able to take some chances on projects I’d have no way to be part of if I was working 9 to 5 for someone else. I’m still constrained in that I have to make enough to pay the bills each month but this past year has been the most creative and downright fun I’ve ever had. I like that I can’t afford to be complacent about things.

What do you find most challenging about being a freelancer?

Although I always thought that working from home must be the best way to work, I do sometimes miss being in an office with a team. I’ve been working in an office at Edinburgh Napier University for the last few months which means adjusting to a new routine for a few days a week while working from home the rest of the time. There’s a lot to be said about maintaining a regular 9 to 5 day, even if you’re not working on a paid for piece of work.

I suppose the biggest challenge is putting in the effort of finding new work and not knowing what you’ll be doing in a few months time. If you start to think about that too much it can be daunting.

How do you know when to stop working?

I try to stick to the regular 9 to 5 I mentioned before, but if something needs to be finished outside of those hours then I’ll do that. As well as the work I’m contracted for I run ReelScotland in my evenings and weekends, so it’s never quiet around here.

What do you do in your breaks?

Because my days vary, so do the breaks. I try and get away from the computer screen at least once an hour and take a walk outside during lunch.

Are you being paid to do what you love or do you do something else to finance what you love?

That’s a tricky one. The Creative Scotland project has found me promoting Scottish cinema and filmmakers via various websites and has allowed me to travel around the country meeting fascinating people in the process. Meanwhile, ReelScotland finds me doing the same but it doesn’t earn me a penny. So I’m doing what I love which also pays me to do what I love. Does that answer the question?!

What are your top money saving tips?

Make your own lunch. Walk instead of getting the bus. Don’t buy too many DVDs.

What new projects are in the pipeline?

There are a few more film related projects that I’ve had meetings about as well as some regular content writing jobs. I’m also developing some new ideas for ReelScotland.

Find out more about Jonathan at www.jonathanmelville.co.uk or follow him on Twitter at @jon_melville

If you’re an Edinburgh Freelancer why not join the next Edinburgh Freelance Friday on 13th January, 5.30pm at Sofi’s, Leith, more here

If you enjoyed this interview you might like to read the following interviews with Edinburgh Freelancers, Jolene Cargill: Opted out because she cares and Alan McIntosh: Man of Mystery Behind The Broughton Spurtle.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Freelance Friday, Media

 

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Annual General Review: 2011

2011 was a roller coaster. It began with a freezing cold jump into the Firth of Forth and ended with my 30th birthday. In between I published my first book, wrote and presented a CBeebies pilot, appeared in a fringe show, performed at my first book festival, won a couple of awards and near the end of the year I resigned from my job to become a full-time freelancer.

I’ve done things I never imagined I could do and I’ve felt like a passenger holding on for dear life. It’s been exciting, it’s been scary and it’s been hard. At times I know I’ve forgotten to enjoy the ride. I’ve struggled with finances, relationships, self-confidence and health. I’ve spent most of the year outside my comfort zone but I’m learning that’s the best place to be.

Right now I’m a little apprehensive about the year ahead so I’m reviewing 2011 in top fives, I hope this will help me to make new plans and look forward to 2012. If you want to find out a bit more just click on a link.

5 things I started..
The Zero Waste Podcast series began with the journey of waste, I travelled from bin to landfill (and retched).

DSCN6203

5 things I made..

  • A CBeebies pilot with BBC Scotland (finished in the summer)
  • Films as a Freelancer (May and June)
  • A poetic declaration of love to the Number 10 Eco Bus
  • Snowmen out of socks with kids on the canal (Dec)
  • Podcasts, loads of them! (all year)

5 awards..

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5 live performances..

You can watch the live stream of my fringe show or listen to my West Port Book Festival event as a podcast, click on the links above for more. Thanks to Chris Scott who took the photo below at the West Port Book Festival.

Edinburgh Books

5 close encounters of the animal kind..

Lots of birds! I was surprised to see my campaign to persuade locals to do the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch in the Guardian and I later received a letter of thanks from the head of media at the RSPB! It was only after this that the blackbird started to terrorise my nights…

DSCN6179

5 interviews..

I’ve been excited and nervous when people have wanted to interview me. Massive thanks to all of you – you’ve really encouraged me. Thanks to STV local and Edinburgh Reporter for additional interviews too. For the record I’ve never been called a ‘digital maven’ or appeared on an international poetry podcast or been filmed by the Guardian before so I’m still not quite sure how this all happened! Here’s the Guardian film, it’s a project where I designed ‘heroes at home’ engagement cards and masks to encourage pupils and parents to reduce waste.
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5 things I finished..

  • Snowboarding (February)
  • My first book, Banana Me Beautiful (March)
  • Paying for my bike on the cycle to work scheme (May)
  • My first three years of a fixed rate mortgage (August)
  • Working for Changeworks (September)
Snowboarding stopped when I flipped over and head butted an Italian mountain. The hospital was an experience “Un-dresse!” they commanded and I started taking my clothes off. “No what is your addressa!”. It’s funny now but I wasn’t laughing when I had to wear a neck brace. After four years of boarding, I’ve had enough. At least I had time to read and take these photos.
Sestriere, Italy, posted with vodpod
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5 adventures..

Loony Dook Video

5 things I tried..

  • Scottish Book Trust Mentoring Scheme
  • Edinburgh Book Festival Story Shop
  • Jesting About 2: BBC Comedy Competition
  • Get a Squiggle On: BBC Script Competition
  • Love
I want to point out there were plenty of things that didn’t happen but it’s all part of learning and growing. I hope this will encourage you not to give up if you experience a knock-back. One exciting development is that I do now have a mentor but not through the Scottish Book Trust, it’s the wonderful Elspeth Murray!
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5 things I became..
  • Trustee of Speygrian network
  • Co-chair of Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Environmental Education Forum
  • Facilitator for a weekly Community Group
  • A full-time Freelancer
  • An aunty (for the fourth time)

5 hopes for the future

  • Make my CBeebies pilot into a BBC series
  • Publish a picture book
  • Get better at the ukulele
  • Make freelancing work and collaborate too
  • Use my creativity to make the world a better place

Finally here are a few more numbers from 2011….

blog posts produced for Greener Leith (48), podcasts made (30), blog posts on this blog (26), films made as a freelancer (9), guest blogs I wrote (8)workshops on National Poetry Day (6), blogs I wrote about Mooncups, yikes! (5)Films I made for fun (3), Awards presented to schools (2), times I performed poetry on the street due to ‘venue problems’ (2) and I attended 4 weddings and a funeral.

Thank you so much to everyone who’s been part of my 2011. Your support and encouragement have made my year possible. And for those friends who drank tea and laughed with me, you know who you are, you’re wonderful (:

 
18 Comments

Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Banana me beautiful, Events, Media, Writing

 

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Climate Change Stories: Scotland

Earlier this month I was comissioned by SNIFFER to make a short film for the SCCIP Apaptation Scotland landmark conference that took place in Edinburgh on 23rd June 2011. Read more about the conference here.

I spent two days filming around Scotland interviewing representatives from Transport Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, North Lanarkshire Council, Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Services and the Carse of Gowrie Community. I found out how landslides affect the whisky industry, how flooding is endangering historic orchards and how the Fire and Rescue Service have increased their provision of high volume pumps to cope with our changing climate.

I spent another two days editing and producing the film titled ‘Climate Change Stories’. It’s a snapshot of how Scotland is adapting to climate change and planning for the future with help from SCCIP. It finishes with the question ‘What’s your story?’. The conference was a great opportunity for stories to be shared as Scotland plans for the future.

Climate Change Stories from Chris Berry on Vimeo.

I enjoyed working with SCCIP and hope to work with them again in the future.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Environment, Film

 

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